Biden Condemns 'Year of Living in Fear' for Asian Americans after Spa Shootings

President Joe Biden is strongly rebuking the surge in racist attacks against Asian Americans that has been stoked by the coronavirus pandemic and highlighted after a gunman killed eight people in Georgia this week—six of them Asian women.

"Whatever the motivation we know this: too many Asian Americans have been walking up and down the streets and worrying," Biden said after a lengthy meeting with Asian American community leaders in Atlanta on Friday. "It's been a year of living in fear just to walk down the street."

Authorities have not determined that the shootings at three spas in the Atlanta area were racially motivated, but Asian American advocates have pushed for the violent spree to be classified as a "hate crime" because the businesses were predominantly run by women of Asian descent.

Suspect Robert Aaron Long, 21, is in police custody and has admitted to the shootings. He blamed sex addiction.

Harris Biden
US Vice President Kamala Harris introduces US President Joe Biden during a listening session with Georgia Asian American and Pacific Islander community leaders at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia on March 19, 2021. Eric BARADAT / AFP/Getty Images

Biden stopped short of ascribing the hate designation to the attacks, but noted that they follow a troubling trend of violence against Asian Americans amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Former President Donald Trump and his allies took to referring to the disease as the "China virus," the "Wuhan virus" or even the "Kung flu" because of its origins in Asia.

"Words have consequences. It's the coronavirus. Full stop," Biden said Friday, an apparent reference to those nicknames.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had been planning to hold a car rally for supporters and to tout the passage of their nearly $2 billion COVID-19 relief package. After Tuesday's shooting, the White House postponed the car rally and instead set up a meeting with members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, including several members of the Georgia Legislature.

"Whatever the killer's motive, these facts are clear: Six out of the eight people killed on Tuesday night were of Asian descent. Seven were women. The shootings took place in businesses owned by Asian Americans, the shootings took place as violent hate crimes and discrimination against Asian Americans has risen dramatically over the last year, and more," Harris said.

Biden said reports of attacks against Asian Americans are "skyrocketing" and urged others to be allies to the community.

"Hate and violence often hide in plain sight, and it's often met with silence," Biden said. "It has to change because our silence is complicity. We cannot be complicit. We have to speak out. We have to act."

Biden, who has suffered several personal tragedies, including the death of his wife and infant daughter in a car wreck and his son's sudden death of brain cancer, closed with a message to the families of Soon C. Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong A. Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng, who were killed in the attack.

"I assure you, the one you lost will always be with you—always," he said. "The day will come when their memory brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye, as unbelievable as that is now, but I promise you it will come and when it does, that the day you know you're going to make it."